5.29.08 Reviews

Northlanders #6 (DC/Vertigo): There were two elements to this wonderful new book that just reached up and punched me in the brain. One, while Sven is a magnificent warrior, he’s not simply a mindless brawler. He observes, he takes in the feedback of those around him, he collates the information, and he learns how to be more strategic. It’s clear that Brian Wood is in this for the long haul and is building a truly layered character. Two, Davide Gianfelice’s visceral art is a perfect match for this book, I can think of no one better suited to give life to such a tale. Between this and Riccardo Burchielli on DMZ, Brian Wood has to be the luckiest guy in comics right now, look at all of the fantastic collaborators he’s working with! Grade A.

X-Force #4 (Marvel): From page one, this script is totally engaging. Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost move us along deftly through X-23's narration, Rahne’s attack, religious extremism, and transforming otherwise throw away characters (talking to you, Elixir) into people we actually care about. We’re treated to chilling lines like the “Apocalypse strand” that stop us in our tracks when we recall a connection to a certain character. For me, this has become the little X-book that could. I’m almost apologetically saying that I’m surprised to be enjoying this as much as I do. I came in with low expectations and have been dazzled for four straight issues. It’s simply on fire and building steam with every forthcoming release. Artistically, Clayton Crain reminds me of Bill Sinkiewicz in a way. When he started on New Mutants, there was nothing like his art in mainstream comics, it was different, it was not the neat look that was common in the Marvel stable, it was initially easy to dismiss it as off-putting. Yet, the more you saw it, the more it grew on you and you developed an appreciation for the subtle nuance. Here, with Crain, I find myself pouring over his images to notice stray wisps of hair, piercing eyes, or simple snowfall juxtaposed against a tree. X-Force is becoming a pleasure to read, whodathunkit? Grade A.

All-Star Superman #11 (DC): Unlike the written-by-committee approach of say… Final Crisis, this is the good Grant Morrison - with a singular voice and vision worth exploring. Lines like “He stinks of the irrational” and the bizarre inclusion of instantly fascinating characters like Luthor’s niece hum vibrantly along as big engaging ideas that are played out as small human dramas. Along with Quitely’s extraordinary art, it’s the perfect blend of imagination and accessibility. Grade A.

Dan Dare #6 (Virgin): It strikes me as a little BSG-influenced when they start speaking of jump solutions and light plus drive, but this was otherwise a bloody good time. I really enjoy the inborn fatalism of the characters, the sense of duty, and the quiet nobility with which they face insurmountable odds. Quiet and confident lines like “Once more…” as if to infer “…into the breach” are refreshing and straightforward compared to the complex calamity of the event driven madness exemplified by another book this week. Grade B+.

Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (Marvel): Delays and extraneous issues aside, the end of Whedon’s run really feels a little untidy. I’d honestly thought that Agent Brand had died, though I’m glad she didn’t and she gets some really cool revealing moments here, it all played a little confusing. The Cassaday two page spread of Spider-Man over New York was cool, but then I noticed the photo background blended in. On one hand, this was a cool little experiment. On the other, it was unnecessary and not in keeping with the artistic choices in the preceding 24 issues. Whedon’s adoration of Kitty Pryde (which I share) is evident as her mutant power and sheer force of will save the planet, but then weakened by forcing her to be “lost in space” indefinitely. And umm… how would she breathe or stay warm in the vacuum of space inside a hollow point metallic projectile anyway? What should/could have been a nice hefty bookend style wrap up to an overall solid 24 issues turns out to offer quite a few cliffhangers. Will Kitty be found? Why wasn’t Peter more determined, nay – mad, about the team’s reluctance to find her? What happened with Scott being able to control the optic blasts? What will become of Beast and Agent Brand? Why was the mind control of Earth’s heroes never explained? Will the incoming creative team of Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi follow up on these dangling bits or will this shitty denouement be left unresolved? As usual, Cassaday’s pencils delight, especially the depictions of Kitty, Scott, Emma, Agent Brand, and Logan. They’re all top shelf, particularly the facial expressions in some of the reaction shots. I loved this arc, but the disappointment of seeing enough material for another couple of issues crammed into one for a quick but inefficient wrap up seems to sting a little. I’m disappointed as this clocks in with a Grade B+.

Marvel: 1985 #1 (Marvel): I think some of Mark Millar’s lines are supposed to read as kitschy industry meta-commentary, but instead they hit me as inbred and self-serving. “What’s the point of collecting these books if I’m missing the title where all the big changes are happening?” I hope that’s rhetorical, because I have quite a few ways I could dissect that sentence and point out that it was this sort of self-loathing nonsense that much of the Kick-Ass backlash was rooted in. I, myself, like Kick-Ass, but I’m just saying… At times, Edwards’ art can be a bit too blocky and angular for me, yet when the inking and coloring are clicking it looks quite nice. I was genuinely surprised that Marvel Editorial let the Love & Rockets and other indie mentions go by. Sometimes Millar’s characters become caricatures. The dad here is really too much of an upstanding guy to be believable, taking this one quality and exaggerating it beyond plausibility. Has anyone ever been that complimentary of their ex-wife and ex-wife’s new husband? Would anyone really turn down thousands of dollars worth of comics out of the goodness of their heart? I can’t quite buy some of this, and the everyman POV has been done to death, but this does still have the potential to be an interesting personal story about “real” life in the Marvel U. Grade B.

Final Crisis #1 (DC): Dude, where to start here… I thought it was neat to see Anthro on the first page. I thought JG Jones’ art was great. Then it all sort of goes downhill. The opening scenes had a very “monkeys with the monolith discovering weapons at the dawn of time all 2001: A Space Odyssey” style. I couldn’t really figure out that was Orion until someone actually said his name. I don’t know who the narrator is or why that’s significant. There are some very expository moments, as evidenced by Savage’s little monologue. “My creed is Luthor” is one of the most hoary and overwrought lines I’ve heard in a while. I though it was pretty ethnocentric for New Earth to be considered the “foundation stone of all existence.” I think I’m just officially “event’d” out. I’m tired of rough jump cuts between seemingly disparate scenes. I’m tired of too many players being moved onto the board to focus on a single story thread or character arc in any satisfactory way. I’m tired of being asked to discern meaning where there probably isn’t any. I’m tired of characters (in this case, Orion and Martian Manhunter) being “killed” and rather than caring, mumbling to myself how and when will that move be undone? I’m tired of reading about the adverts for 8 other Final Crisis tie-in, spin-off, mini-series that go nowhere. The true crisis is DC’s sense of triumph at publishing empty fabricated spectacle rather than character driven stories. Perhaps it’s fitting that DC’s parent company is AOL-Time Warner, which owns Warner Brothers, which holds the rights to an old Looney Tunes character named Foghorn Leghorn. This book reminds me of that gregarious chicken-hawk. It's all bluster and fury. It’s all spit and noise, with no real content. Grade C.

I also picked up;

Skyscrapers of the Midwest (AdHouse Books): Joshua Cotter’s wonderful tale finally collected in a handsome little hardcover. As Warren Ellis puts it, “this is one odd fucking book” worthy of wider readership and recognition.


5.21.08 Reviews

Scalped #17 (DC/Vertigo): RM Guera is really firing on all cylinders here with some crisp panel transitions. You can practically hear the hammer de-cock on the revolver as Bad Horse is being held at gunpoint in an early sequence. Scalped continues to be fresh and original, while offering an unapologetic level of nuance and surprise. Officer Falls Down steps into the picture and Bad Horse grieves in all the wrong ways, with drinking and attempts at self-destruction. It’s as if he’s really seen a piece of himself die when he failed the young boy in so many ways. I like that scribe Jason Aaron leaves things a bit unresolved emotionally with the Dead Mothers arc, but gives us a tidy visual conclusion with Bad Horse returning to the home he grew up in. Grade A-.

Echo #3 (Abstract Studio): Terry Moore continues to push his new narrative forward after a nice one page recap that brings new readers up to speed. And I truly hope that there is an influx of new readership flocking to this deserving title. Moore provides tons of new clues with a sister’s psychosis, government conspiracy, secret boxes, and many new players moving onto the board. The highlight of this issue was a gripping fight between the lead character and her ex, which proves Moore can handle the talking heads bits with as much gusto, flair, flawed realism, and engagement as many lauded writers are only able to handle a more traditional physical “fight” scene. Moore is the rare writer/artist who is capable of delivering both the action and the emotion. Grade A-.

War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #3 (Marvel/MAX): Chaykin’s art is really the only treat here, his figures pop out of their detailed backgrounds and provide some brilliant depth. I notice that I seem to like all the characters in the book, except the naïve buffoon that is the lead. Is that the point? Not sure; I’m not able to really discern any narrative point other than… you know, war sucks, war is (ahem)… hell. But the script relies on either retread shock reaction to violence (oh the horror!) or hoary clichés (unaware servicemen getting after the VD) to make its points. It’s as if Ennis is just ticking items off a checklist of standard old war movie tropes. It’s pretty to look at, but nothing terribly original. For a five issue mini series, it should have gotten somewhere more significant or entertaining by now. Saved somewhat by Chaykin’s art, my last issue of this series scores a Grade B-.

The End League #3 (Dark Horse): From the start, the dialogue in this issue felt unnatural, as if it stemmed from the overly vocabularic hand of a writer. “So save the vague proclamations assigning culpability to some outside force!” Really, who shouts something like that off the cuff in the heat of battle? The bimonthly schedule has really worked against this series. We’re dealing with a very large cast of new characters; I still don’t know who’s who, and trying to conjure vague impressions of a book I read two months ago doesn’t really work. It’s also not appealing to go back and re-read two very dense issues to try and keep up. All of the characters seem to spout the same stilted and overly affected speech patterns, some even have onomatopoeic (but let’s just say unimaginative) names like Ragadoom. Really? Ragadoom? Sigh. Ok. The first two issues I found dense, yet intriguing. This issue is dense and high on exposition, but unfortunately not engaging. I find my mind wandering. I haven’t absorbed what I just read. I read the same sentence over and over looking for a mental foothold to be interested by. There are moments when Remender appears to be going for a Warren Ellis inspired (or even Joe Casey on Godland) bizarre charm: “Come visit, we’ll play Cranium and drink Cosmopolitans,” but it sticks out like a sore thumb and tends to fall flat since it’s out of tone with the context that surrounds it. On the artistic front, I’m not even sure if the art serves the story or not. Mat Broome’s style is umm… stylized (read: not to my personal liking), but certainly detailed and consistent. It just feels a bit incidental. In spite of all my gripes, I’m still fascinated by the core premise of a dwindling band of flawed heroes and think Remender is trustworthy enough to purchase another issue or two. For now, this issue feels ambitious in scope, but flawed in execution. Grade C+.

Checkmate #26 (DC): Greg Rucka has officially left the building, and it shows. While there is an interesting story seed here about the ramifications of the “good guys” performing some genetic manipulation to create a super soldier, the dialogue is extremely flat and doesn’t have the authentic espio-thriller hum that a typical Rucka script does. The Chimera (and isn’t it spelled Chimaera?) comes off looking like some silly manimal transformer thanks to the complex blend of desperation and mediocrity that is Manuel Garcia’s art. This suddenly feels like a generic second string title. No mas, por favor. Grade C-.


5.14.08 Reviews

Casanova #14 (Image): This book is the business. For me, one of the most appealing things about a run is when you reach a moment that compels you to want to go back and re-read the entire series because that singular moment has a revelation which redefines everything that’s come before. It’s almost as if I can’t review this issue without first doing that, in order to truly comment on what this issue means to the saga as a whole. In the interim, Timothy Callahan has done a superb job analyzing the entire affair over at CBR: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=16406 Needless to say, Fraction, Moon, and Ba have achieved a landmark of experimentation and pop synthesis that should be remembered for years to come. Grade A.

DMZ #31 (DC/Vertigo): What I still appreciate about DMZ is that Matty Roth is really the perfect “everyman” of a POV character that we can all experience the radical setting of the DMZ through. It doesn’t matter if it’s his reaction to his mother, the communication attempts of his girlfriend, being ambushed by the media, or his involvement in the “Delgado Nation,” we’re allowed to sort of react with him to the world around us that Wood has scripted. On the penciling end of things, I’m impressed by how Burchielli really knows how to manage a shot. Check out the two page splash of the city and the way the frame is a deliberate parallelogram that forces our eye movement and the energy of the story forward. I will say that some of the monologues felt dense and expository, but don’t worry DMZ. We can still get together on Wednesday nights and discuss contemporary social issues in a near future US Civil War setting. On a side note, I like that DC/Vertigo has really been pushing the sneak previews of upcoming books. It seems with every book I’ve purchased recently, I’ve gotten a nice bonus feature in the back. I suppose they can’t all be winners though. The Madame Xanadu spot this particular time out was really a bunch of gibberish. Grade A-.

Captain Britain & MI-13 #1 (Marvel): For fans of the underappreciated Wisdom mini-series that wrapped a while back, this will get you a bit of that high back. And really, wouldn't "Pete Wisdom: Director of MI-13" be a cooler, more appropriate title? I suppose Captain Britain on the cover will sell more books. Sigh. Anyway... I would’ve liked a little more of Paul Cornell’s aping of Warren Ellis’ writing style and a little less involvement of the Skrull Invasion, but so be it. Leonard Kirk’s pencils feel a bit uneven or rushed in spots, but the script compensates nicely. It was fun to see all of the British heroes rolled up into MI-13, headed by Wisdom, references to Union Jack, and a British Op that ostensibly was about protecting their resident gateway to the magical realm. This book offers fun, attitude, and carries some small touching moments that make it a bit unique. Grade B+.

Transhuman #2 (Image): Jonathan Hickman’s latest project remains an interesting "VH1 Behind the Music" style of storytelling, but is not without a couple minor hiccups. I did enjoy Evergreen Capital being a stand-in (assumably) for real world venture capital firm Sequoia Capital (who originally backed my former employer), but devoting an entire issue to obtaining said venture capital felt like a bit of padding, which is odd for a four issue mini-series. The entire plot of this issue was basically “…and then the two competing companies got their VC and went into asymmetrical business warfare.” I love the narrator’s tone, yet there are moments when his interactions with various characters lose the illusion of a true mockumentary and come off kind of glib and out of character. There’s a fun WE3 reference to be had, but the white lettering on the black word balloons was sometimes thin and I had to squint to make out the text. Still interested, but not as strong as the first issue. Grade B+.

Zorro #3 (Dynamite Entertainment): Ok, ride with me on this… If Zorro #3 and I were friends, I’d flick it in the forehead for being kind of mediocre. While it was mildly interesting to see the time in Spain receiving academic and weapons training, the book is largely full of stock characters portrayed in painfully straightforward ways. It’s not bad per se, it’s just boring. It’s all very competent with no real hook. The art is pretty static, laying flat on the page without much energy to it. I’ve been on the fence with this book from the first issue and goofy editorial mistakes like the “Next Issue” blurb showing Zorro #3, right here in Zorro #3 have finally pushed me over the edge and convinced me not to return. Grade B.

Locke & Key #4 (IDW): For all of the Floyd fans out there, perhaps this is just “a momentary lapse of reason,” but I don’t feel like reading this book any more either. There are some disturbing insights into the villains’ history that I appreciated, but for $3.99 I don’t feel that I’m getting my money’s worth here – despite the nice production qualities of the book. The story bits from previous issues that I really liked, such as more time on the familial interactions, the plight of the mom trying to hold the family together and normalizing an environment, and focusing on Kinsey were all absent here (this last plot thread seriously left dangling from the last page of last issue). It’s still nicely done, but as I continue to refine and cull my pull list, I need something exceptional to justify the spend. Grade B.


Favorite Single Issues

Someone recently asked me what I thought the “best” single issues of all time were. It’s a difficult question to answer, you get hung up on what constitutes “best,” what the criteria are, how to keep it subjective, what qualifies as a "single issue," who's the audience and what's the objective, does it have to be self-contained or is it allowed to be part of a larger arc, best issues to the industry or best issues to you personally… and on and on ad nauseam. Wizard attempted the Top 100 Best Single Issues Since You Were Born a while back; I agreed with a mere handful of their picks. So… without giving it much thought, here’s what I quickly rattled off to the person who asked. Not necessarily the “best of all time,” but some personal favorites. I think this is a testament to the fact these stuck with me as memorable or representative of some cool moments or capabilities of the industry. I’ve shared many of these to hook non-comic readers and have reviewed many of them here. In no particular order;

Local #3 (Oni Press): Brian Wood & Ryan Kelly's masterpiece that deftly provides insight into a local band’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall. It examines what it means to be in the eye of the media, deal with expectations of fans and a sense of obligation, and asks some tough questions about any creators in any artistic medium. This is my favorite issue (to date, haven't read the impending #12) of a great series.

Solo #3 (DC): Yes, it's the out-of-print Paul Pope issue that houses the short story Teenage Sidekick, which won an Eisner that year (the year before he won two Eisners for Batman: Year 100). I still don't understand why DC didn't collect this story with Year 100 instead of the Berlin story, but I digress. This issue of the wonderfully uneven Solo Project contains a plethora of interesting stories, some personal and some company properties. It's a cross-section of this innovative storyteller's diverse body of work.

The Spectre #13 (DC): JM DeMatteis & Ryan Sook had an interesting run on this relaunch, but this was the zenith for my money. They offered up a time spanning love story that pushed the boundaries of the medium out toward the bleeding edge. It was an anachronism of design, in that it looks not like a traditional comic, but a simple pairing of free floating imges and prose lines. It allowed DeMatteis' spiritual lines to sink in and Ryan's amazing pencils to shine unadorned with word balloons or caption boxes, pairing the strengths of each in an exciting way. It's a strong example of what the medium is alternately capable of.

Sandman #50 (DC/Vertigo): Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell crafted this tale which was designed to reflect the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, a traditional Arab anthology. The locale is Baghdad, as Haroun Al Raschid has ascended as the fourth Caliph of the city in 785. He unexpectedly encounters The Dream King. Though collected in a larger loosely related arc, this is essentially a self-contained story. It dislpays many qualities of the Sandman series, with its strong ability to weave art, literature, mythology, religion, and pop culture entertainment in a palatable and relevant way.

X-Factor #87 (Marvel): Peter David & Joe Quesada's X-Aminations issue makes many of these lists due to its fascinating look into the psychological drivers and hidden insecurities of this X-Factor team. We learn that they are often times the exact opposite of what they project to the world. When the X 'verse was largely "zigging," David's scripts tended to "zag" and here displayed compassion and empathy toward homo superior having some very human frailties, rather than the larger than life superheroes the market was accustomed to. Their flawed qualities and quirky personalities made this entire run great fun, and this was the unanticipated pinnacle. Doc Samson explains how he'd feel behind a slow person at an ATM to Pietro Maximoff. He says flatly, “Impatient. Irritated. A little angry sometimes.” Quicksilver responds, “Precisely. Because your life is being slowed to a crawl by the inabilities or the inconvenient behavior of others. It’s not a rational or considerate attitude to have, but there it is. Now, imagine, doctor, that everyone you work with, everywhere you go… your entire world… is filled with people who can’t work cash machines. I’d venture to say, doctor, that you too would suffer... Get the picture? Not so puzzling now is it?” For me, this was one of first times I felt that an ostensible “superhero” comic could transcend its self-imposed limitations and offer more weighty commentary about the typical human experience.

Demo #12 (AiT/PlanetLar): Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan's underexposed anthology experiment (recently announced for both rerelease and the green-lighting of a "Season Two" by Vertigo) had some interesting highs and lows. The last issue of the run is notable because it was so antithetical to conventional expectations. Wood did not offer a tidy wrap up of the entire set of disparate series elements, but a poemic beautiful relationship set to music video cuts that treated the readers to an ethereal and touching experience with "Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi," or My Last Day With You.

What are your personal favorites?


Spotlight on Ryan Claytor Concludes

And Then One Day #6 – Autobiographical Documentary (Elephant Eater): This is my favorite issue of Ryan Claytor’s ATOD series to date – in which interviewees answer questions about the author in comic form – for a couple of reasons. First, I feel that in the span of a couple years worth of work, his line work has stretched and grown. It was always solid, but here it seems to take a dramatic leap forward. There’s a crisp confidence to the lines that comes off a bit more intensely. I’m impressed how his lines are relatively simple, yet carry an emotionally charged complexity to them. The second reason I enjoyed this issue is because it remains a bit unresolved. Claytor has bordered on creating a new sub-genre, and in doing so, is able to ask many thought-provoking questions that he doesn’t have the answers to. It takes some bravery to do something like that. Can an autobiography or a documentary ever be truly objective? Are they any more valid or truthful than fiction? What sort of biases do different points of view naturally bring to the party? Can comics ever reach the level of “fine art?” (My current boss actually asked me this question in one of my interviews, so this was a surprising treat that resonated with me). Of course, those of us in the industry, even on the fringe, agree that they exist in “a veneer of being unimportant or non-threatening, but in reality it’s a potent source of commentary.” But if the population at large is unaware of this, is that still valid? Claytor’s work wrestles with the question, what creates identity? Is it our opinion of ourselves, how the opinions of those around us inform our own, or the intersection of the two? I picked up on another interesting question from the work, and I’m not sure if this was intentional or ever considered: If Ryan is the abyss that these interviewees are staring into, does he stare back and influence them as well? It certainly appears that way. This process that he invented is bidirectional. Not only do we learn about the author, but through the course of their answers we seem to learn just as much about the respondents. If he can be defined, in part, by their responses and knowledge of him, so too are they defined by the portrayal of their reactions to his questions. This is a very interesting dynamic that was put into motion. The third component of this work that I found such joy in was a two page (146-147) sequence from pal David describing his view on the beauty of the medium and the convergence of text, images, time lapse, and interactivity with the reader. It serves as a brilliant little sound byte of analysis that I’d proudly show my non-comic friends to deftly explain the nuances, value, and uniqueness of the medium. Man, I want to own those two pages! This was a unique experience from a talented creator. Ryan Claytor is now in that select strata of creators whose work I purchase on sight. Here’s to more work deserving of Grade A+.


Spotlight on Ryan Claytor Continues!

And Then One Day #5 – Sketchbook Edition (Elephant Eater): As I become an aficionado of Ryan Claytor’s work, what I appreciate the most about this second major endeavor is his departure from the expected and willingness to experiment with the form. This issue is an extended journal/sketchbook hybrid that tests the definitions of the commonly accepted sub-genres in comics and still retains the charm of Claytor’s ability to illuminate the small moments in life. From what I’ve read so far, that theme transcends all of his work, regardless of the interesting tinkering he does with the format. It was a fun surprise to find an image of the downtown San Diego Santa Fe Railway Train Depot; it’s a location I’m quite familiar with, as the museum I work at occupies an adjacent space and shares the complex. If that’s my favorite image, my favorite line of prose was “…and tried to talk with him, or at least feel him a little bit. I really miss him.” Claytor describes kneeling in a Thai temple and experiencing the loss of a personal friend. It’s lines like these that hum with the simple, effective prose of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories that make Claytor truly shine as a writer. An incredible thing happens when you force yourself to free write as he’s done in this journal/sketchbook. You find yourself pleasantly surprised at the insights that are revealed by your own hand when you’re forced to articulate what you feel or think about a given situation. If you’d like to further explore any of Ryan’s work, I highly recommend it: http://www.elephanteater.com/ Grade A.

5.07.08 Reviews

Wasteland #17 (Oni Press): Johnston and Mitten keep layering plot threads as major elements are put into motion here; we’ve got the ascension of Artisian Skot and some complications with the quest for the fabled A-REE-YASS-I. There’s so much dramatic tension coiled up in Skot with all of the secrets he’s carrying, I can hardly stand it! I have to note that Mitten’s pencils here have grown tremendously. I’ve been a fan since his Queen & Country run, but they really take on new life here with more detailed backgrounds and what looks like either heavier inks or a brush wash that gives the figures a more fully rendered weight. It’s clear that this creative team is in it for the long haul; Johnston keeps laying additional plot seeds, while Mitten is evolving his craft. I couldn’t be happier, looking forward to many more issues of this unique title. Grade A.

House of Mystery #1 (DC/Vertigo): This property has been re-tried a couple of times, but it certainly seems that this creative team and this incarnation have the capability of being a long running hit. Matthew Sturges provides an effective and organic introduction, touching upon the Cain and Abel mythos, how the House of Mystery works functionally with the pay as you go story currency in the realm, the opposing House of Secrets, and many of the concepts introduced by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and the various offshoot books. Willingham’s embedded tale harkens back to the title's horror roots and was really a disturbing treat! Luca Rossi’s art is an exceptional find, reminding me in spots of Kevin O’Neill’s LOEG work, certainly one of the strongest artists in the DC stable at the moment, on par with DMZ’s Riccardo Burchielli or Scalped’s RM Guera. This title could quickly be Vertigo’s new breakout hit, one that would make the creators involved with the title’s legacy and this part of the DC ‘verse very proud. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #1 (Marvel): Fraction and Larroca have instantly created an accessible read for the throngs of moviegoers still high off the cinematic buzz that was created last weekend. This book quickly establishes all the characters, is unambiguous in terms of relaying their strengths and vices, and swiftly moves a rich plot right along. The framing device of “5 Nightmares” worked exceptionally well. By the time we’d gotten to #2, I was nervous and excited to see what the remaining ones would be. The creative team gives some respectful and affectionate nods to Ellis and Granov’s Extremis run on the title, which seems to inform much of the recent Iron Man canon, including the movie. Fraction’s library of work is a strong and diverse one, it now seems that he’s capable of adding a Rucka style “espio-thriller” to his toolbox. Larroca’s pencils really haven’t looked better. His photorealistic art is of course referenced, but doesn’t look stiff or inorganic in any way. I particularly enjoyed his design for Tony’s “day job” SHIELD Director’s suit and the magnificent image of the Helicarrier emerging from the clouds. These guys have all the essential components here; not only is this a near perfect first issue, but has the makings of being a terrific run on the property. “ – cotton and spandex. Three for $9.99. Got ‘em at Target. L-A-M-B-O-R-G-H-I-N-I.” Grade A.

Secret Invasion #2 (Marvel): I continue to enjoy Bendis’ portrayal of Ares; it’s so cool that he’s not (just) hired muscle and steps up with an opinion when things go crazy. It really seems as if Yu has taken his time with this art, gone are the overabundance of sketchy unfinished lines. His two page spreads are impressive and organic feeling. Loved Carol’s silent reaction panel. Dug the scene with Clint and Mockingbird. The script is actually pretty clever in the way it pseudo-answers questions, only to raise more doubt. Now we wonder which Cap died. Now we wonder about Jessica. It all makes this title hum right along with fun and believable gravitas. Can I just say that Marvel is kicking DC’s ass right now with events? Compare this to anything going on in the DCU at the moment, and you see clarity of concept, accessibility on every page, and a sheer joy in storytelling with no plot hammers, sacrifices of logic, or obtuse nonsense. Grade A-.

Conan #50 (Dark Horse): The washed out effect enveloping the art is a fitting touch, as this incarnation of the title wraps up and fades away. Overall, this was a very satisfying conclusion to the plot involving Ereshka and Iniri, complete with a great vintage bonus tale penciled by the great John Buscema. Tomas Giorello’s art on the main story feels like it’s in peak form here; notice how the spires in his cityscapes are reminiscent of P. Craig Russell’s work on the Ramadan story in Sandman #50. Notice the brilliant colors that pop as Iniri casts her spell; this is truly something magical. I love how the tale has come full circle back to the narrator from the original #0 issue: “Shall these histories survive the storms of the coming age, or the avarice of scheming men? This, I cannot know. However, be thou certain… as long as scrap, shard, fragment, or chaff of these texts remains… then so, too, will the tale.” I think this 50 issues will indeed endure the storms of the marketplace and avarice of men, and will be remembered one day as one of the definitive runs of the property. Grade B+.

All-New Atom #23 (DC): I decided to check in on this title once I remembered that Rick “Fear Agent” Remender was on scribe duties. It’s obvious to anyone who has an appreciation for Remender’s dialogue that he’s the writer; I love the titular character’s self-deprecating humor in the face of peril. Couple that sensibility with Pat Olliffe’s never-looked-better pencils, a Ladronn cover, and the brilliant strategy of treating the property as a retro-sci-fi affair rather than a superhero story, and you have a well played tale indeed. Grade B.


Spotlight on Ryan Claytor

And Then One Day: Volume 1 (Elephant Eater): The first thing you’ll notice about Ryan Claytor’s self-publishing approach is superb attention to detail and a strong eye for graphic design. It’s obvious that Claytor has pondered his projects thoroughly and has worked out the kinks. His innovative details range from the sublime to the purely functional. Notice how a butterfly swirls up on an introductory page, trailing the first sentence of the indicia behind in an inventive way. On the more functional side, anyone who’s signed extensively on the con circuit knows that often times it’s a chore to find a suitable spot to place a signature or quick sketch, so Claytor built himself a page for that very purpose. Pretty cool! How come nobody else ever thought of that? Something else I really appreciated was this creator’s self-awareness about the common pitfalls of the genre. Sometimes the very mention of “autobiographical comics” can illicit a response that would suggest it’s a pejorative description. There are so many examples in this segment of the industry that have that brand of navel-gazing angst, typified by Claytor’s brief song parody. Claytor is confident enough to avoid that trap and offer superficially simply pages about seemingly average days that, instead of being mundane, provide little universal truths about man’s existence that anyone can identify with. In any given day, we all experience a series of minute triumphs and tragedies that define us. This work as a whole suggests that life truly happens in these small little moments, not the big events or grand spectacles that occupy our calendars. Life happens in the unplanned interactions with those around us, such as the meaning he draws from a random chat session online with a soldier serving in Iraq, who describes IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) very matter-of-factly. In this subtle way, the commentary in the work is reminiscent of the NBM book Ordinary Victories by Manu Larcenet. On the artistic side, Claytor is a strong panel to panel storyteller who has mastered the scripting concept of an isolated story beat. There are many examples of panels with no dialogue, where he pauses for a beat to achieve great emotional impact with the reader. He uses a wide variety of panel types that flow with an affable ease and would make a structure commentator like Scott McCloud very proud. And Then One Day is exemplary of the rare relevance and high production quality that the autobiographical genre is indeed capable of. Grade A.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Queen & Country: Definitive Edition: Volume 2 (Oni Press): Tara Chace’s life is a mess. This volume really catalyzes the accelerating pace of her downward spiral. Her missions are becoming increasingly problematic, the moral ambiguity permeating all aspects of her service to queen and country. In this single volume, Tara finds herself with not one, but two, dead colleagues – one of whom she was sleeping with. This double-tap sets up a trifecta of deaths that ultimately culminates with mentor/lover Tom Wallace dying in one of Rucka’s prose novels set in the Q&C universe. As if that wasn’t enough, Tara begins to use alcohol more and more as a means of managing her emotions and the trauma of both her physical losses and lack of validation from her superiors. She’s then confronted with the dichotomy of her friend’s Euro-trash lifestyle, reminded of her own sacrifice of her youthful innocence. If the first definitive edition was largely setting up this world of espionage, the loose “rules” of basic tradecraft, and Tara’s place in it, then this volume focuses more on her character arc and an emotional journey. It’s here that Tara really starts to become an outsider to her own life, so begins the descent into her own personal hell. Queen & Country is simply the most compelling and gripping series of its kind. It is the rare work that has the versatility to erupt with violence, while taking its audience on a slow deliberate character journey with a strong emotional undercurrent. For every scene that hums with acronyms and spy lingo, for every quirky and endearing bit of British humor, there is the quiet lonely scene of introspection that allows us to consider our own human frailties no matter where we reside, regardless of our own occupation. I’m deeply saddened to see this series go; it’s basically everything I want in a comic book. Like Tara, I’m dealing with my own complex emotions surrounding losing something that I don’t truly appreciate fully until it’s… poof… gone. Thank goodness for Oni Press canonizing this book in a second round of collected editions in a dirt cheap, beautiful format. This is the equivalent of three regular trade paperbacks worth of material in a groovy digest sized format for a mere 20 bones. Buy it right now. Grade A+.


4.30.08 Reviews

Local #11 (Oni Press): With the long awaited arrival of the penultimate issue of this series and last week’s Northlanders #5, I firmly believe it’s time to hand Mr. Wood his Eisner Award. He has arrived and is one of the most versatile and engaging writers of our time. On the surface, the character of Nanci Bai is quite interesting as she assimilates Megan’s existence with relics of her past on display. When you dig a bit deeper, you see that many of Wood’s best traits as a professional come to light. Notice the way that he relies heavily on his collaborator Ryan Kelly (whose art remains to me, the perfect blend of Paul Pope and Farel Dalrymple) to deliver much of the action without any dialogue. It’s Kelly’s clarity of line, emotive expressions, and Wood’s effective panel to panel transitions that allow this to occur. Not only does Nanci showcase bits of Megan’s past, but there’s a nice interplay with the audience that occurs since these are bits of our past (with the series) as well. The meta-play with the reader continues as Wood suggests that Megan “may be fictional… there is no Megan per se…” As readers of the series, we’re compelled to come to Megan’s defense. “How can you steal her identity?” We cry, “she is real,” only to realize that Wood has forced us in a very interactive way to defend the sovereignty of his made up character. Grade A+.

Black Summer #6 (Avatar Press): Ellis continues his political analysis by examining the methodology of instigating a conflict with hidden motives, attempting to fabricate compelling evidence at a later date, and hoping that a disenfranchised electorate will not discover the truth. This issue feels very balanced as we gear up toward the final showdown with John Horus. There are flashbacks that contain very vibrant dialogue, all interspersed with insane visceral action sequences as a counterpoint. Juan Jose Ryp’s art has never looked better, boasting a nice blend of Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely. I wonder about little items like a character tossing his (Starbucks stand-in) coffee cup aside. Is it merely what it seems to be at face value, or is it some sort of intentional commentary, the decline of the coffee symbolic of the decline of truth in the American government? At his best, Ellis poses this type of question amid a highly entertaining tale. This is shaping up to be one of my favorite works by Ellis. Hopefully Avatar will collect this in a nice hardcover at some point. Grade A.

The Immortal Iron Fist #14 (Marvel): This is a satisfying conclusion to a great, long arc that will serve nicely as Fraction, Brubaker, and Aja’s swan song on the title. I still feel that the inclusion of so many artists was a bit distracting and not entirely necessary, but it’s more than made up for by the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to this issue. There’s simply tremendously fun action here, all coupled with some meaningful notes about a true revolution in K’un L’un and the possible redemption of Davos. We’ve got Mr. Xao and the Hydra Horde, Lei Kung and The Army of Thunder, The Seven Immortal Weapons, Davos, Danny, Luke, Colleen, Misty, Jeryn (and his mom!) all involved in a Tarantino style stand-off. When you add memorable lines like “I am Xao’s reckoning,” this will be one of those runs that makes the top runs lists in the future. Grade A-.

Ex Machina #36 (DC/Wildstorm): Ex Machina takes a lot of heat online for being repetitive and formulaic, perhaps having jumped the shark and arc or two ago. I still disagree with that sentiment. It continues to induce smiles in me as I read, which so few titles seem to do these days. The dialogue hums along with an affable flow and natural ease. The pencils are beautiful, and I like how the political reality that these characters inhabit is surprisingly not unlike the world we live in, whether it's the perspective of soldiers, mayoral staff, or even chics on motorcycles base jumping off WTC Ground Zero. Grade A-.

Hercules: The Thracian Wars #1 (Radical Comics): There are clearly some things that new publisher Radical Comics is doing right. There’s a Jim Steranko cover. There’s the square bound prestige format. There’s the $1 introductory issue. These are smart moves. The contents of the book are… good. The narrative is a nice mixture of accepted mythology and speculation, and even has a nice running gag about stature. The art uses some interesting page layouts and enticing black gutters. Unfortunately, to survive in the market today and possess any sort of longevity, you’ve got to bring something distinct, innovative, or particularly brilliant to the table immediately. This title is extremely competent, but lacks that additional “x” factor to distinguish it from the masses. It’s fine for a dollar, but I certainly wouldn’t pay $2.99 or $3.99 for this book. Grade B.

I Was Kidnapped by Lesbian Pirates from Outer Space #1 (Platinum Studios): Well, on the positive side it’s .99 cents. And I did like the pop art, romance comic influences that bubbled up in spots, that was a fun aesthetic. But, the sci-fi abduction trappings and odd lesbian paranoia, cumbersome misspellings like “definately,” and overly affected, pseudo-self aware lines like “sounds like a comic book to me” all played really tired and flat. It kind of sucks when a humor book is not funny. Grade B-.

Caliber #1 (Radical Comics): Caliber gets the same kudos as it’s compatriot Hercules this week, but suffers some additional setbacks. The plot is more obtuse and relies on some mystical mumbo jumbo, something about a quest for a gun, and is full of “Skell of the sky, Nez Perce,” and “Llao of the Underworld” nonsense. Whatever. The art is a bit stiff in spots and is hampered by some dark colors and inks in a crucial fight scene. The page layouts are a bit more experimental and the result is confusion. My eye just wasn’t intuitively aware of how it was supposed to navigate the pages. Again, a nice effort from Radical Comics, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Grade B-.

Glamourpuss #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim): This one was a bit difficult to parse. I went it expecting it to be a scathing send-up of consumerism and media fashionistas, or a more humorous affair like Blush! Magazine in the old Laura San Giacomo sitcom Just Shoot Me. The first couple of pages I found to be very off-putting in their air of arrogant self-importance, truly living up to the term “vanity press.” Sim admits that this isn’t going to be a traditional sequential narrative. Then, suddenly it turns into more of a Scott McCloud style analysis of the medium, cross-hatching techniques, and a retrospective on artists that Sim is fond of. It’s really all over the map and I’m having a difficult time sussing out what the point is. It’s not pure satire. There’s weird filler in the back. There’s no story. I’m unclear on what he’s trying to say. There doesn't appear to be a singular concept unifying the components and it makes for a muddled experience. Is this simply a bucket of ruminations on different interests the author/artist has? The production quality is great and he certainly has enough credibility in the bank to warrant another issue or two, but I’m really not sold in the slightest at this point. In the trifecta of indie creators with return projects, Terry “Echo” Moore, Jeff “Rasl” Smith, and Dave “Glamourpuss” Sim, I declare Terry Moore’s Echo (by far!) to be the winner based on the strength of the first issue and clear conceptualization. Grade C.

DC Universe #0 (DC): I’ve come to the sad realization that I basically have no idea what’s going on in the convolution that is the DCU any longer. When the DCU in its entirety is reduced to a never-ending series of crises, the whole thing loses gravitas and just isn’t fun. It pains me to say this, having grown up very much a DC kid. Stop. Fucking. With. The. Multiverse! Just have interesting characters and tell compelling stories. A manufactured “event” does not a story make. Instead, we get a .50 cent advert for Final Crisis and the myriad other tie-in books that will accompany it. This comes complete with the Brad Meltzer school of colored caption boxes, in which I can’t seem to decipher who’s narrating. The George Perez pages are pretty enough, and the scenes with The Joker are pretty chilling, but otherwise there is no story here. This book makes me tired, I can’t muster any energy. Let’s hope that this is indeed the final crisis, though DiDio already suggests otherwise. It disgusted me that DiDio’s end piece seemed so self-congratulatory. This book will “bridge one event and other series to other events, not one but many, and series, and more.” Uhhh, what? It’s clear to me that DC Editorial is largely more concerned about building events and establishing themselves as a spectacle factory than actually publishing compelling character driven stories. This is clearly a case where the business paradigm (ie: let’s make money!) has a disproportional advantage over the art paradigm (ie: let’s publish comics). Grade C.